Today I hope you don’t mind me sharing an off topic post with you, something that has been weighing heavily on my heart and why I’ve been less present on the blog this summer. I scribbled it out on the way home from dropping my middle son, who has severe food allergies, off at college. It’s my raw experience of letting go and saying goodbye.
This isn’t my first rodeo. Two years ago my daughter left for university and it was a sad day for sure. Many tears were shed as I worried that maybe I hadn’t taught her enough life lessons to handle a world that can be so unpredictable. Would a world that can often be cruel, be kind to her? Would she know how to cope when it wasn’t? Would she thrive and be happy in the path she chose for herself?
I feel all these same things this time around with my son leaving but it’s also very very different. This time I say goodbye to a child that also happens to have life threatening food allergies. Diagnosed as an infant with allergies to dairy, gluten, eggs, fish and nuts, he had his first anaphylaxis reaction at just 6 months old. It was as terrifying as you can imagine. I first wrote about our experience with food allergies 10 years ago on the blog when my son was just seven years old.
For 17 years my life has revolved around keeping my son safe. Never a day went by that I wasn’t constantly scanning a room for possible contaminants or analyzing the people in his presence that might unknowingly expose him to foods that could put him at risk for a reaction. Any surface with dairy residue or crumbs of wheat could be deadly for him. We educated and put protocols in place to try and protect him. Then as he got older and started school, he carried his EpiPen himself in the cutest little Spider-man fanny pack. Every single day I’d remind him to take his EpiPen with him whenever he left the house. As a teenager my son took on more and more responsibility for cooking his own safe meals and scoping out his environment. When it was time to look at colleges, we carefully chose a school with studio dorm rooms equipped with kitchen facilities so he wouldn’t have to worry about contamination risks that come with both a roommate and a cafeteria.
I know he’s ready, I’m just not sure I am. All these years of preparation have led up to this very moment of letting go. And yet I’m terrified and excited for him all at the same time. Motherhood is like that isn’t it. I’m thrilled for him and his independence and how happy he is about the whole thing but in that I have to figure out how to turn off the constant vigilance that has been my life for the past 17 years. Even with my guard constantly up I was still the cause of two accidental exposures when he was a teen…once when I gave him a store bought cinnamon bun that I missed had egg as an ingredient and the unfortunate time I gave him oatmeal labeled as gluten-free, only to find out the hard way that it clearly wasn’t gluten-free. I know how easily these accidents can happen and that makes the fear very real for me.
My son no longer uses a Spider-man fanny pack, but the way I felt that day he started Kindergarten so long ago, as I watched him walk into the classroom all by himself, is the same way I feel today dropping him off at college. My heart is racing, it feels hard to breathe and I’m trying so hard to distract myself from the tears that threaten to spill over. I avoid looking at him so he doesn’t see the panic in my eyes. I have to say goodbye and trust the One who ultimately loves him more than I do. My only goal in this transition phase is to simply take it one day at a time and hold on to the promise that God’s grace is sufficient for today.
We’ve prepped his dorm room and stocked his fridge and I remind him again to be careful, to never let his guard down around food, to constantly ask about ingredients at restaurants, to never ever make assumptions about what is safe and to always make sure he has his Epi with him. “I know, Mom”, he says. It’s nothing he hasn’t heard a million times before but it makes me feel better to say it anyway. I beg him to return my texts as I know the panic will be unbearable the longer I have to wait to hear back from him wondering if something might have happened to him alone in his room. We agree on a “I’m not dead, just busy” emoji he can quickly send me in those situations. I thank him for humoring me. I pray he follows through and I pray that I don’t send him texts every hour on the hour. I will get through this, but it will take some time.
I simply cannot delay the inevitable any longer. It’s time to say goodbye. Letting go is just so incredibly hard.
I take a deep breath, give him a big hug and as we drive away, I feel the tears that I have fought back for weeks silently begin to fall.